Friday, August 21, 2009



By Jerry Okungu
Nairobi, Kenya
August 19, 2009

When did Somalis overthrow Siad Barre? It must be 20 years now or there about.
After Siad Barre came one General Aideed. He is the Somali warlord credited with disorganizing the America humanitarian marines deployed to bring food supplies, law and order in to war-torn Somalia in the early days of Bill Clinton’s presidency.

The encounter left the Americans with blood on their noses and a humiliating experience that saw a dead body of one marine dragged along Mogadishu streets as barefoot Somali fighters celebrated America’s humiliation. These horror pictures were so devastating to the American public back home that Bill Clinton ordered the operation stopped and the rest of the marines evacuated.
The only remaining super power had been badly humiliated by a wretched ragtag army in the Third World.

For close to 20 years, successive American administrations have been weary of meddling in Somali conflict. More importantly, America has thought it wise not to engage Somalis directly for whatever reason as they have done with Iraqis, Afghans, Koreans and Vietnamese in recent years. Instead, they have used neighboring countries like Ethiopia and Uganda to contain the Osama bin Laden influence in that chaotic lawless country.

The downing of an American fighter helicopter in Mogadishu was horrific enough. The myth of American airpower was put in doubt. This informs why for the last six years, since George Bush launched massive bombing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan to rout Al Qaida from those enclaves, it is difficult to measure credible successes compared to massive destruction of infrastructure, millions of civilian lives lost and thousands of American soldiers killed in those conflicts.

The American involvement in the current Somali conflict is something that has confused analysts on the scene. More curiously, it has not been the kind of involvement that would be considered humanitarian. It is more to do with arms supplies to one side of the conflict than anything else.

One wonders what will happen if the present good boy of Mogadishu turns against the hands that fed him just like Osama bin Laden did after the Russian Afghan conflict
It is obvious to us that when Ethiopia decided to invade Somalia in support of the ousted Abdulahi Yusuf, it was to defeat an Islamic “terrorist “ group then led by the current interim president. The Ethiopian air power scattered the Islamic Courts insurgents forcing their commanders to take refuge in Yemen. Now, hardly a year later, this former Al Qaida sympathizer has suddenly become the good boy worthy of American arms supply.

America’s involvement in the Horn of Africa’s conflict is not something new. It is as old as our independence. We remember that at one point when Siad Barre’s regime was the darling of the Soviet Union, Americans were the biggest supporters of Emperor Haile Selassie. However, when the brutal Mengitsu Haile Mariam overthrew the monarch and established a communist socialist regime on the model of the Kremlin with full backing from Moscow, Americans quickly filled the vacuum the USSR had left in Mogadishu.

Therefore as the Ogaden war erupted between Ethiopia and Somalia, it was really a war of influence between Moscow and Washington. No wonder no one won the war. Yet both super powers achieved their primary objectives. Their arms industries found ready-made markets in the Horn of Africa. And even after the Ogaden war, other civil wars had to continue in both countries for decades with Ethiopian one being conducted in two phases. The first phase had to do with getting rid of Mengitsu while the second phase pitted former allies against one another. It was Eritrea’s war of cessation.

As Ethiopia continued to slide deeper and deeper into protracted civil wars, Somalia never rested after the Ogaden war either. More prolonged conflicts finally threw Siad Barre out in the early 1990s. One would have expected a new regime, more humane to replace Barre and restore sanity into the country. It was not to be. The era of warlords had arrived.

We all know that very few African countries are in the business of manufacturing arms of any kind save for South Africa. We are all net importers of military armaments we deploy in our conflicts. We don’t even manufacture gas masks, teargas , bullet-proof vests and helmets. All we export to industrialized Europe, America and China are raw materials like oil, diamonds, gold, uranium, tea and coffee, most of which they extract themselves and pay us peanuts for. In exchange our countries have huge and secretive military budgets that we must spend year in year out whether we are at war or not.

This state of affairs has been made worse by our selfish, unfocussed and uncaring political leadership from our region for nearly half a century. At the center of it all is deep seated corruption and insatiable greed for individual wealth. This is the greed that has enslaved our countries to the industrialized nations with occasional belief that we can depend on them in our hour of need when hunger ravages our neighborhoods. It is a slave-master relationship that will take time to break.